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But his sizeable, surprisingly young flock remained.
As tables were brought in and arranged in neat rows among the ancient icons and golden candelabra, the crowd began to mingle.
MOSCOW -- On a recent snowy Sunday, the 17th-century Dormition Church was drawing evening Mass to a close.
The ethereal chants that had for two hours entranced a standing congregation still echoed off the intricately painted walls as Father Aleksy Gomonov retreated to the sacristy to remove his vestments.
Others seek a companion for walks, church events, or pilgrimages. "And the youth have nothing to do either." At 67, Gomonov sports an impressive white beard and a mane of strawberry-blond hair.
"Such a creature is uniquely intelligent." Questions continued for another hour, probing issues from curing loneliness to the use (or nonuse) of vodka by Russian soldiers in past military campaigns."Yes, I try my best," said Pavel Komissarov, a stocky, bearded 40-year-old clad in a slick suit. And I noticed that God helps a lot with that, too." Komissarov, who owns a construction company in Moscow, has attended club nights since 2011.Today he comes mainly to hear Gomonov's sermons and see old friends.In 2007, they gave Gomonov a special gift: an icon depicting Peter and Fevronia, the Orthodox patron saints of marriage.He led a prayer in their honor that Sunday, and it became a weekly event.
"Orthodox girls are more reliable, they're more loyal," said Sergei, a lanky 29-year-old from the suburbs sporting a pink T-shirt and jeans who has attended the club for over four years. The capital's clubs and bars organize regular singles' nights, and Tinder and other such apps are wildly popular.